A word of advice: before reading Jenny Erpenbeck’s latest novel, stock up on tissues. Kairos, first published in German in 2021 and newly translated into English by Michael Hoffman, is a tear-jerker of epic proportions. The book follows the emotionally and intellectually complicated, years-long affair between a young woman and a much older married man. Set in East Germany, just before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Katharina, a romantic but disillusioned 19-year-old theater student, finds herself involved with a controlling 50-something novelist named Hans. Though his jealousy and casual cruelty causes her pain, she fights back her tears, always waiting to cry until they’re no longer together. “Cries as she vacuums, cries as she cleans the kitchen, cries in the bathroom as she scrubs the shower and sink,” Erpenbeck writes of Katharina’s hidden waterworks, one of many warnings of the major heartbreak to come. But Erpenbeck’s hypnotic prose and brilliant accounting of German history make the impending breakup feel particularly profound. Kairos is an absorbingly bleak look at lost love that will stay with you long after it ends. —Shannon Carlin
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